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Introduction to
Home Life

William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

What was life like for Confederates on the home front? How did the Civil War affect customary social roles and the daily routines of the civilian population? These are among the questions that best can be investigated through diaries and personal correspondence.

Most civilians experienced the war as a series of hardships and sacrifices. Shortages of basic goods soon developed; prices first rose and then skyrocketed; work loads and responsibilities for women increased with the departure of their sons and husbands for military service; slaves seized any opportunity to escape behind Union lines; and mounting casualties brought the war home with an agonizing reality.

As is made clear in the diaries of Samuel Andrew Agnew and Jason Niles, residents of central Mississippi, law and order began to break down by 1863 in the Confederate interior, especially in areas exposed to roving bands of deserters, draft dodgers, and Unionists. Likewise, Kate Carney's and Mary Bethell's diaries offer powerful perspectives on the tribulations faced by women. Carney's journal provides a particularly interesting narrative because of the location of her Murfreesboro, Tennessee, residence. Since it lay on the path taken by both Federal and Confederate forces as they battled for control of middle Tennessee, her daily routine was often interrupted by the uncertainties of war.

The letter collections offer similarly revealing narratives. The Lenoir Family Collection touches upon nearly all the wartime issues confronting civilians. Equally poignant is the Kimberly Collection, which chronicles the ordeal of a Confederate official and his wife as they fled Nashville, Tennessee, ahead of Union forces. Their correspondence offers fresh insight into the problems associated with life on the run (particularly in Atlanta, Georgia) as well as issues of religion, the death of loved ones, and the grief of widespread disease. The Milling Collection yields much useful information on farming, business endeavors, and the domestic experience in wartime South Carolina. These and other entries under Home Life are invaluable for gaining a personal perspective on Southern life behind the military lines.